Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Samuel Gerson and the Relational Unconscious

"It may have taken the field of psychoanalysis eighty years to take full note of the "third" so evident to Eliot's (1922) poetic vision, yet it seems that having only recently broadened our purview from a singular focus on the patient, our gaze now moves urgently past the engagements of the dyad and into an opaque space beyond identifiable subjects. For some, this something called a third that transcends individualities is thought of as a product of an interaction between persons; others speak of it as a context that originates apart from us even as it binds us together; and there are some for whom the third is a developmental achievement that creates a location permitting reflective observation of lived experience, be it singular or communal. These multiple meanings indicate that our field is searching for concepts to contain and further the abundant new observations that have stimulated us as we have evolved into a theoretically pluralistic discipline tied to contemporary developments in other fields of study.

In this paper, I hope to further this project by rethinking some of the foundational concepts that originated within a more exclusive intrapsychic orientation and by extending them from within an intersubjective perspective. After briefly considering some premises that inform a relational view of the mind, I will elaborate on these elements of intersubjectivity, with three purposes in mind. The first is to extend the concept of the unconscious and its processes in a manner consistent with intersubjective views of human development and communication of knowledge. In this regard, I will suggest that the concept of the relational unconscious best captures the theoretical and clinical implications of intersubjectivity. Second, I will contrast the concept of the relational unconscious with those that involve notions of thirdness, and in this effort I will delineate three different usages of the concept of thirdness—namely, the developmental third, the cultural third, and the relational third. My third aim is to draw attention to the operations of the relational unconscious within psychoanalytic practice. Here I examine two clinical vignettes in which the work is temporarily stagnant as a consequence of intersubjective resistances; I suggest that the unraveling of such resistances alters both the structures of each individual's unconscious and the patterning of their relational unconscious. I conclude with the view that clinical progress is regularly characterized by analytic discourse that creates the dual therapeutic action of affecting both the individual and relational unconsciouses of both participants in the analytic dyad....

I propose that this reciprocal and mutual influence of unconscious minds upon one another creates a relational unconscious. The uniqueness of each relationship is in large part due to its singular mix of the permitted and prohibited, a mix that is formed from, yet transcends, the individual conscious and unconscious elements of each partner. Imagine the relationship as the offspring of the two individuals, constituted by each of their unconscious material, and, as in the mix of genetic material, having features both recognizable and novel and always containing marks of mysterious origin. The jointly developed relational unconscious affords each participant novel opportunities for the expression of previously unactualized, as well as repressed, elements of subjectivity and experience, even as it contains limitations and prohibitions unique to the dyad, which culminate in a variety of mutually supported defensive processes.

The relational unconscious, as a jointly constructed process maintained by each individual in the relation, is not simply a projection of one person's unconscious self and object representations and interactional schemas onto the other, nor is it constituted by a series of such reciprocal projections and introjections between two people. Rather, as used here, the relational unconscious is the unrecognized bond that wraps each relationship, infusing the expression and constriction of each partner's subjectivity and individual unconscious within that particular relation. In this regard, the relational unconscious is a concept that allows the joining of psychoanalytic thought about intrapsychic and intersubjective phenomena within a theoretical framework that contains each perspective and elaborates their inherent interconnectedness."

Samuel Gerson (2004). The Relational Unconscious. Psychoanal Quarterly, Vol. 73, pp, 63-98


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